Lodging opportunities expand under infill
[Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles detailing Aspen’s proposed infill legislation ? a package of zoning changes that includes new regulations that may help the owners of “tired,” old ski lodges rejuvenate their properties.]A number of Aspen’s lodges are undergoing a transformation of late. Drafty old rooms that have seen better days are being razed and replaced with the kinds of accommodations the resort’s guest has come to expect.The city’s lodge preservation zoning, established in the mid-1990s and retooled in 1999, has helped make the lodging facelift possible. The LP zone, as it’s called, relaxed the rules to make new investment in old lodges more attractive.The problem, city officials quickly noted, is the LP zone doesn’t encompass every lodge in town, and the resort’s oft-lamented “pillow drain” has continued. The LP zone eases the way for redevelopment of a lodge, but makes its conversion to some other use difficult. Lodges outside the zone have continued to disappear.Aspen’s proposed infill legislation, a broad package of land-use code amendments, would expand elements of LP zoning to the entire lodging district. The idea, according to the section on lodge zoning, “is to encourage construction, renovation and operation of lodges, tourist-oriented multi-family buildings, high-occupancy timeshares and ancillary uses compatible with lodging to support and enhance Aspen’s resort economy.”The infill proposals, which would affect development throughout Aspen, from the commercial core to the office district and its residential zones, are all aimed at allowing greater density in the original town site ? filling Aspen in rather than expanding it outward. The legislation won approval last week from the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission and will go to the City Council next month.The regulations aimed at lodges will allow property owners to raze their buildings and rebuild the same number of units without facing the requirements that city currently imposes on new construction ? most significantly, the need to provide housing for 60 percent of the employees the project is expected to generate.Only new, additional units ? should the lodge owner expand as part of the redevelopment ? would be subject to the mitigation requirements.For a lodge that is designated as a historic property, however, there will be no housing requirement connected to an expansion. Historic buildings cannot be razed, and their expansion requires review and approval by the Historic Preservation Commission ? a step other lodge owners don’t face.Excusing them from the housing requirement is a concession to the other challenges owners of historic lodges face, said Julie Ann Woods, the city’s head planner.”That’s a significant change,” she said. “I think it’s really going to be an incentive. I hope that we’ll see some of those tired-looking properties do some rejuvenation.”The waiver of the housing requirement is a step in the right direction, said Yasmine dePagter, co-owner of the Holland House, a historic ski lodge. The dePagters are pursuing an expansion plan for the lodge and recently appealed, unsuccessfully, to the HPC to have the lodge’s historic designation lifted.”Historic lodges certainly need to get some benefits above and beyond what they get out of LP,” dePagter said. “There have to be incentives for historic lodges. There’s got to be some huge incentives ? that ball is in the city’s lap.”The new zoning regulations would also relax the height restriction for lodges, currently set at 28 feet in the lodging district. The new height limit would be 42 feet for up to three floors and 52 feet for a partial fourth floor, or 45 feet for up to four floors.”Virtually everyone seeks a variance from it now,” noted Chris Bendon, the city’s long-range planner. “It isn’t a dramatic change from what we’ve seen for the past 10 years.”The Mountain Chalet, for example, recently won approval for an expansion project that includes a new fourth floor on part of the building, topped by a fifth-floor lounge that will bring the lodge’s height to about 55 feet, said Ralph Melville who opened the first three rooms of the lodge in 1954. Part of the lodge is already four stories tall.At one point in the 1960s, he recalled, the city had no limit on height, and he received approval for an eight-story building.”Of course, we only did go to four stories because I thought it was a little bit absurd, at the time, anyway,” Melville said. The city quickly clamped down after he received a permit for eight stories, he added.Also part of the infill changes is an elimination of the annual growth limit on lodging. The current cap of 11 new units per year will be lifted, but the overall cap on lodging growth remains in place, as established by the Aspen Area Community Plan.In planning for a peak population of 30,000 permanent residents and visitors in the Aspen area, the AACP sets the development ceiling for lodging at 11,160 pillows. The pillow count in 1998 was 8,583 pillows.-On Tuesday: More places to live?[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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